Saturday, July 31, 2010

Environmentalists and environmentalists

In a way, modern environmentalism, which is pragmatic, businesslike, collaborative, and climate-focused, has been hamstrung by historical environmentalism, which was often shrill, exclusionary, irrational, and microfocused. Being mischaracterized as a tree-hugger is something that makes my job, and the jobs of others in my field, much more challenging than it would be otherwise. In 1997 I attended the first American intensive training in the "Natural Step" in Santa Fe. The Natural Step is a Swedish approach to sustainability. The meeting was filled with hard-core businesspeople, scientists, and some equally hard-core "environmentalists." At the end, one woman stood up and said, "I cry for the earth every day," and broke down in tears. It was horrifying to me. Get this woman out of this room and out of the environmental movement, I thought.
— Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. From Getting Green Done (New York: Public Affairs, 2009), p. 114

Thursday, July 29, 2010

NOAA study / Phytoplankton decline

Right on the heels of the "35th birthday of global warming," NOAA has released a new study:
The 2009 State of the Climate report released today draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable. More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years. (full summary)

I cannot tell from the summary whether the report purports to offer additional evidence that these changes are anthropogenic, but since I still run into people who insist, on the basis of a cold winter or two cherry-picked years to compare, that the Earth actually has been cooling, this report looks like it will be worthwhile to read even if it says nothing about the anthropogenic connection. Access the NOAA report in full.

In a releated story, a Nature study reports a massive global decline in phytoplankton biomass since 1899, at a "global rate of decline of ~1% of the global median per year," and reveals that the "long-term declining trends are related to increasing sea surface termperatures." The authors of the study are not confident about extrapolation from this into the future, which is good, since the story would otherwise be the most terrifying thing I have ever heard.

H/T: Little Green Footballs.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

RealClimate: Happy 35th birthday, global warming!

RealClimate discusses Wally Broecker's prescient 1975 Science paper, “Are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming?” which appears to contain the first use of the term "global warming" in the scientific literature:
Overall, Broecker’s paper (together with that of Sawyer) shows that valid predictions of global warming were published in the 1970s in the top journals Science and Nature, and warming has been proceeding almost exactly as predicted for at least 35 years now. Some important aspects were not understood back then, like the role of greenhouse gases other than CO2, of aerosol particles and of ocean heat storage. That the predictions were almost spot-on involved an element of luck, since the neglected processes do not all affect the result in the same direction but partly cancel. Nevertheless, the basic fact that rising CO2 would cause a “pronounced global warming”, as Broecker put it, was well understood in the 1970s. In a 1979 TV interview, Steve Schneider rightly described this as a consensus amongst experts, with controversy remaining about the exact magnitude and effects.
Read the RealClimate post in full.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Darwin's Sacred Cause

It has taken me more than a month, but I have finally made my way through Desmond and Moore's dense, excruciatingly detailed Darwin's Sacred Cause. The subtitle of the book gives a good synopsis of what it's all about: "How a hatred of slavery shaped Darwin's views on human evolution."

The evidence Desmond and Moore marshal is substantial, filling 376 pages of smallish text; not only do they describe how deeply involved the Darwins and Wedgwoods were in the anti-slavery movement, they reveal how so much of Darwin's work was informed and motivated by the desire to refute a then-prevalent justification for slavery—the opinion that Africans actually constituted a separate species, and did not participate in the brotherhood of humanity with the white people who longed to be their masters.

Darwin, of course, did the equivalent of driving this nail with a hydrogen bomb, destroying not only the myth of separate ancestry between blacks and whites, but that of separate ancestry between humans and the rest of the living world. It is unfortunate that he still accepted some form of a hierarchy among races, but, situated in his era—for which one's attitude toward slavery must be the strongest litmus test of humanism1—he was very much a progressive.

That proponents of slavery adapted to Darwin, and sought new justifications within the context of the very science that denied them their old ones, is testament to the limitless corruption of humanity, forever ensnared in tribalism.

1 And yes, friends, Wilberforce aces that litmus test, too—let's give credit where credit is due: on the wrong side of history where science is concerned, but a humanist nevertheless.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why I like Hume

Now you know.


Time to ask questions, indeed. Reminds me of this letter. Don't know who it belongs to? Look here.

Will the right renounce the rhetoric of violence, or continue to play it up for profit and votes?

Monday, July 19, 2010

This state keeps getting better and better

AZ Sheriff Babeu appears on a white nationalist program, invites listeners to join his "posse". That's Sheriff Babeu, of the "Complete the Danged Fence" ad. I wonder if McCain is still proud to be "one of us."

What does America say to the wrongfully detained?

Too good not to quote in full. Says Hume's Ghost:
Dear Mr. Odaini,

Gee wiz, we're sorry we stole eight years of your life from you—the prime of your youth—by putting you in prison and holding you there while denying you the basic human liberties that are supposed to be the bedrock principles of the nation and the basis of our legal system and what not; and we're gosh darn sorry that we conspired to keep you in prison even after we knew you should be released, but you have to admit, you do have a Muslim sounding name, and you were transfered into our Kafka-esque prison camp, which is your fault and not ours, but rest assured that we'll put this behind us by Looking Forward, Not Back, as we'll do for the other 75% of such persons who fell victim to America's extralegal prison camp. We are sure this will be a great comfort to you, to know that we will not think of this again, and to help us not think of it again, we will make an exception to our Looking Forward, Not Back motto, to persecute anyone who has the nerve to bring to our attention any other such perfidy. With a little bit of time, we'll be able to forgive you for getting yourself wrongfully locked up in Guantanamo all those years, giving people the silly notion that we're the sort of country that goes around locking up Muslims while denying them due process. Shoot, some of us will probably have already done you the favor of never even having heard of you, as is a habit with such matters.

You are welcome. (The Daily Doubter)
More like "Swift's Ghost" to me. I blush that I am one of those who does not recall ever having heard of Odaini. But I have heard of him now. Thanks, HG.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

If The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ had been written by anyone other than the author of the fantastic His Dark Materials trilogy, I would not have picked it up. The publisher's summary of the premise made the book sound, frankly, clunky and insipid. However, my confidence in Pullman was rewarded: the book is a good book, easy and fluid, and actually quite interesting to read. I finished it in an hour, and think it an hour well spent in a time when my excursions into fiction are rare. I don't like spoilers, so I'll confine my comments to this endorsement.